It appears that first-round cornerback Artie Burns was not the only rookie in the defensive backfield to have his role re-examined over the course of the bye week. While the top draft pick was moved into the starting lineup in advance of Sunday’s game—during which he recorded his first interception—second-round draft pick Sean Davis also seems to have found a new role for himself.
The safety by trade was actually working out of the slot at the start of the season, which was in part done by necessity when they lost their slot cornerback and still felt that they needed William Gay to be a full-time starter on the outside. Gay is now their slot defender and a ‘part-time’ player, even though the nickel is their base defense.
Davis suffered a back injury in the third game of the season, however, and since then, his role has been evolving. In that game, safety Robert Golden was also injured, and Davis returned to the game to play safety, though he did not start, even when ostensibly healthy, in Golden’s place when he missed time.
But on Sunday, he was placed into a rotation with Golden at the strong safety position, logging 27 percent of the Steelers’ defensive snaps, while Golden played the remaining 43 snaps. This is not something that I read about being discussed at all over the course of the week, and even the beat writers seemed to find it surprising.
One even asked what package the Steelers were playing in during the game when Davis was on the field, but it was just their usual alignments, either in their nickel or in a 3-4 front. The only change was Davis serving in the free safety position for about 40 percent of the game while Golden was on the sidelines.
To be clear, Golden is, as far as I know, healthy. He played 100 percent of the team’s snaps in the game before the bye week, and he never showed up on the injury report. So assuming that he was not dealing with some sort of undisclosed issue that developed late, or during the game, then this was an active decision to play Davis.
In fact, he was in the game as early as the second play of the Ravens’ second offensive possession. There was an injury on the first play of that drive, and for some reason, in the interim, the coaching staff chose to take Golden off and put Davis on. He played the rest of that drive.
At the very least, it makes sense. The Steelers want him to get playing time, and that was no doubt part of why they were so willing to let him play in the slot. But they admitted they may have given him too much to chew on, and have since scaled it back. Now they are giving him some opportunities to play the position he will hypothetically be starting at in the near future.